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What we're reading: December 2017

Indulge in the seasonal melancholy of winter with a travel book that maps the world's most joyless place names.

By Sarah Barrell
Published 16 Dec 2017, 08:00 GMT, Updated 12 Jul 2021, 14:42 BST
Book cover.
Sad Topographies book cover.

Damien Rudd takes his Instagram account into print with this illustrated guide for the dispirited traveller. Having stumbled across Mount Hopeless on a map of South Australia in 2015, Rudd decided to investigate other instances of miserablist monikers and soon collected a 'cabinet of depressing cartographical curiosities.' So began a worldwide journey of toponymy (the study of place names) that unearthed such flawed gems as Apocalypse Peaks, Lonelyville and Cape Grim.

This isn't a travel guide, more a landscape of the mind. Rudd hasn't visited theses places, nor does he intend his readers to; instead he explores the stories behind these dismally named destinations, many of which are the subject of ignominious tales from the Age of Discovery.

We learn that the End of the World isn't in the depths of the Arctic or deep in the Southern Ocean but tucked away in eastern California where the hopes of 19th-century gold prospectors went to die. We follow heartbroken Royal British Navy surveyor John Pender — made wifeless and childless by the plague — heading to Western Canada in the mid-1800s, where he maps out his grief in the naming of British Columbia's Sorrow Islands.

With its dark humour and the safe distance of history, these tales of derring don't are a refuge from today's world map, which is plagued by divisively devolving regions, displaced refugees and defensive borders. The book's analogue, line-drawn maps, Instagram endorsement and archive photography make it ideal escapist-indulgence material for the miserable millennial. 

Sad Topographies, A Disenchanted Traveller's Guide, by Damien Rudd. RRP: £20 (Simon & Schuster)

Get the guides

The Good Hotel Guide 2018
The best hotels, inns and B&Bs in Great Britain and Ireland, independently reviewed with sections for notable newcomers and César award winners. This 40th anniversary edition comes with discount vouchers worth a total of £150. RRP: £20

The Pocket Beer Book
The third edition of this beer lovers' bible has tasting notes from more than 2,000 brews, new and classic, from the traditional beers of Germany to the cutting-edge craft brews of North America and beyond. RRP: £12.99 (Mitchell Beazley)

The Art Of Fire
A practical and globe-trotting account of fire making around the world. Written by Daniel Hume — head of operations at Ray Mears' School of Wilderness Bushcraft — this elegantly illustrated, cloth-bound book conjures the joy of tinder, spark and ember. RRP: £20 (Penguin Random House)

The very big adventure book

Voyage of the Southern Sun: An Amazing Solo Journey Around the World charts Michael Smith's solo journey around the world in a seaplane, retracing the 1938 Qantas, Imperial and Pan Am flying boat routes between Sydney, Southampton and New York. It took seven months and he'd barely flown a plane before. RRP: £16.99 (Black Inc.)

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Published in the Jan/Feb 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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